Densie Mackay (nee Whitwell) with a photo of her after she won Miss Kaiteriteri in 1970 on the cover of the Nelson Photo News. Photo: Simon Bloomberg

Miss Kaiteriteri remembers her big day


The iconic Miss Kaiteriteri beauty contest is one of the most durable and popular events  on the holiday programme around the Nelson-Tasman region. The Nelson Weekly talked to former winner Denise Mackay (nee Whitwell) about her big day on the catwalk back in 1970.

Like hundreds of young teenaged girls who spent the summer holidays camping with their families at Kaiteriteri Beach, Denise Whitwell always looked forward to watching the Miss Kaiteriteri beauty contest.

It was a popular and glamorous event with suntanned, bikini clad girls vying for the title of the most beautiful babe on the beach. So it was only natural that Denise, who was 16,  would enter the event and take her turn on the catwalk.

“We camped there the whole school holidays, right from when we were young children,” Denise recalls. “I made a lot of friends there over the years and we’d look forward to seeing each other at Christmas – it was wonderful.

“Miss Kaiteriteri was always one of the big events of the year and, when I was old enough, I entered because all my friends did. Beauty pageants were still popular back then and everybody entered – the whole campground took part.”

Denise says she didn’t expect to win and was stunned when the judges announced she was Miss Kaiteriteri 1970.

“I was surprised when they said I’d won. I was just a typical teenager with pimples on my forehead – I hated those pimples. But I had a very good tan and tans were a big thing back then so that probably helped.”

Denise also had a good stage presence as she strutted her stuff up and down the deck of a lorry that doubled as a catwalk.

“I wore a yellow bikini and I wasn’t that nervous because I used to dance in competitions so I was used to being on stage.”

Denise received $40 and a packet of the sponsor’s product (Benson and Hedges Gold cigarettes) for winning the contest. She also featured on the front cover of the March edition of the Nelson Photo News which her husband Murray had reprinted and blown-up before putting it on their front door for her 60th birthday party.

“I didn’t know he’d put it there and all our guests were  giving me funny looks. I never used to tell anyone I’d won Miss Kaiteriteri but a few people always found out and teased me about it.”

Denise trained a primary school teacher in Christchurch after leaving Motueka in 1970 and taught at schools in Christchurch and Auckland before returning to Motueka in 2009. Although she hasn’t holidayed in Kaiteriteri since her return (“it’s too crowded now”), and rarely thinks about her big day in 1970, she is pleased Miss Kaiteriteri has survived all these years.

“I don’t think about it much but I’m pleased it’s still going. I think it’s sad that they are stopping a lot of those carnivals and beauty contests today – they used to have Mr Tahunanui and Miss Caroline Bay in Timaru and they were alot of fun.”

Miss Kaiteriteri will be held at the Kaiteriteri Reserve on Monday January 2 staring at 11am. Entry is $2 per person with categories  for ages two-plus.